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Thursday, 29 April 1971

Senator COTTON (New South WalesMinister for Civil Aviation) - When Senator Milliner spoke previously and again when Senator Kennelly spoke tonight I listened very carefully. I read very carefully the statement which I made on behalf of the Minister for the Interior (Mr Hunt). I was very much drawn to the human tragedy involved in this incident. I believe that the human tragedy could not have been avoided. It was one of those tragedies which do occur. While I felt that we should be expressing our sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives, I felt equally that we should draw attention to the personal bravery of some of the people involved. That had not been much touched on. I thought we- could equally do that. The final paragraph of the Minister's . statement reads:

Police, firemen and members of the public carried out a number of rescues. I draw particular attention to the conclusion reached in the report of the Department of the Interior that in effecting rescues these people exposed themselves to serious personal danger. They are to be commended for their efforts.

Just as that report commended them, I am sure that we should feel the same way. I have not read in detail the findings of the Coroner or the report, but I am most impressed by the fact that the Minister whom I represent has seen fit to make available to the Parliament the Coroner's statement in its entirety and that the National Capital Development Commission has seen fit to produce a highly documented and detailed report. Nothing has been hidden. It has been well analysed. Maps and diagrams have been supplied. Irrespective of what anybody might feel and the natural sadness that we all feel, there is every evidence here of a genuine attempt to do everything to make the situation as good as possible in the future. Senator Kennelly very properly asked what is being done. All I can tell him is that at the moment work is going on in that area to do some of the things that are recommended. I draw his attention and the attention of the Senate to the Minister's statement, which I think is quite clear. Paragraphs 8 and 15 of the Coroner's report contain some significant comments but it seems to me, without wishing to repeat those paragraphs because I would be wasting the Senate's time, that they are dealt with in the Minister's statement, which reads:

Analysis of the hydrological data support a conclusion that the storm and flood in the Woden Valley on the night of the 26th January 1971 was an event which must be considered of rare occurrence with an average return period most probably in excess and even well in excess of 100 years ...

Senator Kennelly asked how that was known and whether there are records dating back 100 years. I cannot say. There has been a fairly long period of settlement in the Canberra area and I would imagine that there are some records. The Minister's statement continued:

When compared. with subsequent relatively large floods in the Woden Valley on the 5th February 1971 and the 10th February 1971, the flood of the26th January 1971 was more hazardous not only in its far greater peak flow rate but also in the rapidityof the rise rate of the flood which caused areas to change from safe' to. unsafe within a relatively few minutes.

I suppose that most of us in country areas of Australia have from time to time seen the effects of a quick flash flood on an area such as this, even in drier parts. They can be extremely dangerous. I completely agree that it is not possible to create an engineering situation which totally handles these ' very occasional hazardous and high peak floods that come and go quickly. Nonetheless, when one looks at this report it is evident that the Department seriously intends to do everything possible. It was said that every effort would be made and I am sure that that will be the case.

I am unable to add anything more to those remarks because this matter is not within my field of particular responsibility - it is one that is only delegated to me. I will draw to the attention of the appropriate Minister the Hansard report, particularly the comments made by Senator Kennelly. In passing I might add that the honourable senator made an interesting observation about keeping drains and culverts clean. The first thing said to me when I first took office as a young shire president by an old shire presi dent was: 'Go round the roads, Bob, and check on whether the culvert and drains are clear and kept clean'.

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